Why You Should Let Your Child Play Minecraft (And How To Use It As A Teaching Tool)

Children learn about coding, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and digital citizenship through Minecraft’s game-based platform.

Video games are frowned upon by parents as time-wasters, and worse, some even think that these games corrupt the brain.  However, games are not always bad.  Some studies have shown certain video games can improve hand–eye coordination, problem-solving skills, and the mind’s ability to process information.

“Video games change your brain,” according to University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green.  Playing video games changes the brain’s physical structure the same way as learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating using a map.  Much like exercise can build muscle, the powerful combination of concentration and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine strengthen neural circuits that can build the brain.  And Minecraft – the world-renowned game we want to introduce with you today – is one of the best examples of how videogames can make your kids smarter.

Minecraft, the popular sandbox game, is beloved by educators worldwide for its use as a learning tool.  It enables students to explore, create and imagine in a completely different way than they could ever do in a traditional classroom. The beauty of the game is in the way it unleashes the creativity of both children and parents.

This article will tell you five reasons you should let your child play Minecraft and how to incorporate it into creating exciting learning experiences.

What is Minecraft?

For those of you who haven’t played it, Minecraft is a game that gives you an open world and the ability to use the raw materials around you to craft and shape tools, alter the landscape, build buildings, play music, or even build a working computer within the game.  Minecraft is defined as a three-dimensional sandbox video game for single or multi-player use.  The word “Minecraft” is a portmanteau of two verbs: to mine and craft.

Like any playground, Minecraft doesn’t come with instructions, and it’s relatively simple to pick up and play. You learn the game through exploration, experimentation, watching YouTube videos, and reading other fan-created content (there’s a lot of it online). And the more you play, the more you learn what to do and how to use the available resources, such as Redstone and different kinds of ore, to make ever-more-complex tools and structures.

Parents can imagine Minecraft as Super Mario of our kids’ generation.  It’s an international phenomenon.  There is an extensive Minecraft community based around all of the unique possibilities inherent in the game.

5 reasons why Minecraft is beneficial for your kids

“Is Minecraft bad for my child?” some parents may ask.  The answer is no!  On the contrary, this is a non-violent, educational game that can teach kids the fundamentals of programming skills, teamwork, problem-solving, project management and offers a great environment to foster creativity and “out of the box” thinking.  Still not convinced?  Check out these five concrete reasons why Minecraft isn’t a typical video game and how your kids can benefit from playing it.

1. Minecraft unleashes your child’s creativity. 

Minecraft isn’t just about stacking and unstacking blocks.  Encourage your kids to build something learned in school, like a Scottish castle or an Egyptian pyramid, or create an entire world from their imagination.  Some will explore extensive cave systems underground, while other players might build grand houses.  Perhaps your child will reveal their architectural genius and create astonishing block cities and structures inspired by real or fictional locations.

2. Minecraft inspires confident exploration.

Unlike other video games with strict rules and linear event progressions, Minecraft is an open environment that doesn’t come built-in with structured quests.  This means that youngsters can roam through this world and explore without an urgent set of tasks.  However, they are still challenged by loose survival requirements, such as feeding their avatars, building shelter, or warding off enemies.  Children are free to make mistakes and succeed in the world of Minecraft.

3. Minecraft develops career skills.

Not only geometry and math knowledge, but Minecraft can also even be directly applicable to essential workplace skills that will help your youngster land a solid career someday.  In addition to familiarity with computer hardware and functions, kids gain experience with video game design principles and coding in the Minecraft world.  A study in 2017 conducted at Glasgow University linked playing video games and Minecraft to future university success.  Their research found that people who played the game showed increased communication, adaptability, and resourcefulness scales, compared to the control group – all skills that are seen as critical for graduate success.  Progressing through Minecraft will provide you any number of opportunities to gently steer your kid toward good decision-making and preparation skills, as well as teaching patience and perseverance.

4. Minecraft enhances teamwork

One of the coolest things about Minecraft is that other players are constantly sharing their custom-made modifications, quest maps, impressive artwork, and wiki entries.  This culture encourages young people to explore their own ideas and contribute too.  Depending on your child’s age, you might want to explore special public servers, forums, and wiki guides together and see how other players customize their games.  Parents can also set up personal servers so that other friends and family members can join in on the fun.  Psychologists have been researching video games as a way to build social skills since children get to engage with one another to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

5. Minecraft is relatively inexpensive. 

Children of many ages can play Minecraft.  The game itself doesn’t cost much, and you can even have your child pay for it through allowance, teaching them the importance of saving money!  Due to their graphics’ simplicity, you don’t need a super expensive and advanced computer to run it either.  Minecraft can be played on PCs, Macs, and Xbox 360.  There’s also a version for iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android smartphones.  The computer version is $26.95.  The Xbox version is $20.  The tablet edition is $6.99.  Parents can download the PC or Mac version at www.minecraft.net.  You can also let your child experience the free trial here.

How to use Minecraft as an educational tool

Before you jump into using Minecraft as a creative tool for your children, let walk through the game yourself and consider some steps you can take to incorporate Minecraft into teaching kids real-life skills.

1. Experience Minecraft yourself

Parents should learn the basic game mechanics of Minecraft.  That will allow them to learn more about your children’s hobbies and open new communication spaces between parents and their kids.  You’re not expected to know every trick or secret to Minecraft, only how you can effectively use Minecraft as the specialized tool that it can be.  Once you’re a master, all that’s left to learn is how to use all the resources at your disposal to help your child learn in subjects like agriculture, arithmetic, history, chemistry, architecture, … and be involved and share in the fun too.

With recent events shifting the world to online education shortly, Mojang Studios – the developer of Minecraft and Microsoft- has teamed up to make it even easier for parents at home to use this version of Minecraft dubbed Minecraft: Education Edition.  If you’re good at English, check out their full guide to Minecraft: Education Edition.  They’ve compiled a complete guide on all the essentials.  Not all of these features may be available to you, but it still might be useful to know what the Education Edition is capable of.

2. Engage kids in conversations

Ask your child what he likes about Minecraft.  Answers will likely revolve around the collective themes of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.  One of the best ways to do this is to set your child a challenge, such as: “Can you build a Minecraft railway?”.  Challenges like this will boost their problem-solving skills and develop their research skills as they look up solutions on YouTube and work out the best way to tackle the challenge.

3. Explore YouTube video tutorials

If you have not known anything about the game, just do a keyword search for “Minecraft,” and BOOM! –  over 140 million videos will show up!  Many of these have been created by students like ours honing their skills as content producers.  Some helpful examples can be found here and here.

Minecraft games are played in “worlds.” You will find any version of your child’s interest in exploring along with you, so open dialogue and uncover what kinds of worlds they value and what elements stand out.  Simply boot up the game and select an available world – it will load automatically. You can also visit the online world library and download as many as you wish.

4. Add a tool for writing

Minecraft can be used to tell stories with characters, locations, choices, motivations, and plots.  Parents can use Minecraft as a tool for children to write and create stories based on their character.  Perhaps your child might develop a backstory for the world he makes, as well as for his character.  Children can also create a story with different plot elements using the game they play and add more creative aspects.

During the coronavirus school closures, Minecraft has made free lessons and worlds available for remote learning.   They also offer ten free worlds from its creator community, with each world offering lesson plans with writing activities, build challenges, and puzzles.

Minecraft Resources on the web

Children’s books about Minecraft and coding

Of course, like many other online video games, Minecraft might have some potential threats.  However, if you teach your children the right digital safety rules (i.e., never give out your real name, address, or other personal information), the online version of the game will be a positive social experience.  The next time your child asks if they can play more Minecraft (and you know they will!), think about all the useful, practical skills they’re gaining.  Sit down with them, watch them play, and get involved with what they’re learning and doing.  And who knows? Maybe time spending on Minecraft can spark your child’s interest in STEAM jobs; as Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook, once said, “I made a lot of games for myself, and they were terrible, but this was how I got into programming.”